Saudi King Salman orders government reshuffle, FM Jubeir replaced

Published 27.12.2018 16:14
Updated 27.12.2018 18:16
This file photo shows Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, giving an interview to AFP at his ministry in the capital Riyadh on Feb. 18, 2016. (AFP Photo)
This file photo shows Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, giving an interview to AFP at his ministry in the capital Riyadh on Feb. 18, 2016. (AFP Photo)

Saudi Arabia's King Salman ordered Thursday a large-scale government reshuffle replacing Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir with former longtime Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf.

A royal decree called for the restructuring of the Political and Security Affairs Council -- under the chairmanship of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- and the restructuring of the Council for Economic Affairs and Development. The crown prince retained his position as both deputy prime minister and defense minister.

Al-Jubeir, the soft-spoken foreign minister since 2015, will be demoted to minister of state for foreign affairs. Al-Assaf had been serving as minister of state and has held a seat on the boards of oil-giant Saudi Aramco and the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund.

Al-Assaf's biography on Aramco's website says he holds a Ph.D. in economics from Colorado State University, a master's degree in economics from the University of Denver and a bachelor's degree from King Saud University.

The king appointed Prince Abdullah bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz to replace Prince Miteb bin Abdullah as chief of the National Guard, and ordered a reshuffle of Saudi Arabia's Political and Security Council. Gen. Khalid bin Qirar al-Harbi was named general security chief, while Musaed al-Aiban was appointed national security adviser.

Turki Shabbaneh, a Saudi TV presenter, was named the minister of media replacing Awwad al-Awwad, who was named as an advisor to the royal court. Hamad al-Sheikh was appointed as the minister of education.

Meanwhile, Prince Abdullah bin Bandar— the son of Prince Bandar Al Saud who once served as Saudi ambassador to Washington— was named head of the National Guard. The force is tasked primarily with the protection of the Al Saud ruling family. Prince Abdullah had been deputy governor of Mecca.

Some provincial governors have been replaced in the reshuffle, according to the royal decrees that gave no explanation for their sackings.

One significant change impacts a close aide of the crown prince, Turki al-Sheikh, who was named as head of the kingdom's General Entertainment Authority, a body created in recent years to help organize and promote concerts and other events that had long been banned in the conservative country.

Al-Sheikh, who is known to be close to the crown prince, was replaced as head of the Sports Authority by Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal.

Al-Sheikh's appointment as head of entertainment means he no longer oversees a cybersecurity and programming body that was led by Saud al-Qahtani, a close aid to the crown prince who was fired from his post and sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for helping to mastermind the plot in Istanbul that led to Khashoggi's killing.

Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi agents in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

The outrage over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia's Consulate in Istanbul has increased scrutiny on Riyadh's role in conflicts in the region, potentially giving Western powers, which provide arms and intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition, greater impetus for action.

Saudi Arabia denies the crown prince knew of the plot. He's been supported by President Donald Trump who has touted U.S.-Saudi ties. The U.S. Senate, however, passed a unanimous resolution saying it believes the crown prince is to blame for the murder. His critics point to U.S. intelligence reports and say an operation like this could not have happened without his knowledge.

The killing badly damaged Prince Mohammed's international image as a transformational leader committed to changes Saudi Arabia's allies in the West long hoped for.

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